A pencil for Nellie Bly

I’ve written here before about my delight in that most seemingly quotidian of items, the simple pencil. I now note, then, the recent release of Blackwing’s special edition “Volume 10” pencil, dedicated to investigative journalism and, in particular, Nellie Bly, whose Ten Days in a Madhouse (hence the “10” in “Volume 10”) created considerable stir when it was published in the New York World in 1887. Blackwing’s Volume 10 web page continues:

The Blackwing 10 is a tribute to Nellie Bly – and investigative journalists like her – who keep citizens informed, and give them a voice. It features a matte grey newsprint finish, dark grey imprint, silver ferrule, and dark grey eraser. Its extra-firm graphite is ideal for capturing notes in a reporter pad, or completing a newspaper crossword.

A delightful tribute to a free press, when it seems under considerable fire these days. And I can testify that the pencil itself is ideal for the completion of the New York Times daily crossword puzzle: indeed, it’s my new favorite.

If you order this special edition pencil from Blackwing (and I suggest you do so soon; these “Volume X” pencils sell out quickly), a portion of your purchase will support music and arts education at the K-12 level. But if you can’t wait, I suggest you make your way to CW Pencil Enterprise on Orchard Street as soon as you can, where they are currently in stock.

Getting it right

At the White House Correspondents Dinner last Saturday night, biographer Ron Chernow quoted Mark Twain — or, rather, misattributed a quote to him. “As we head into election season, I will leave you with one final gem from Twain: Politicians and diapers must be changed often, and for the same reasons,” Chernow said in farewell; the error also picked up by CNN’s story about the dinner here.

As Matt Seybold of the Center for Mark Twain Studies at Elmira College and Editor-in-Chief of MarkTwainStudies.org pointed out, this was just about par for the course; it’s so common for individuals to shoehorn into their writing an apocryphal saying of the great American author that the Center even has a section of its web site devoted to such misattributions. Twain himself was a newspaper reporter early in his career, and Chernow’s case was particularly troublesome, Seybold writes: “If America’s leading historical biographer can’t be bothered to properly source the quote he chooses to conclude what he knows will probably be the most-watched speech he will ever deliver, what hope is there of defeating the ‘relentless campaign against the very credibility of the news media’ which he rightly describes?”

These are parlous times for the free press. At first, the man in the White House called “Fake News” the “enemy of the people”; he has since broadened his attacks to demonize the press generally. All right, Chernow was giving a speech, not writing a news story, but Seybold’s concern is well-taken. Also well-taken is Seybold’s injunction that “the stuff [Twain] actually said is always preferable to the weak witticisms of others we attempt to spruce up by imagining them coming out of his mouth,” and offers up, as an example, this much more robust and detailed characterization of the press from a speech that Twain gave in 1888:

Remind the world that ours is a useful trade, a worthy calling: that with all its lightness and frivolity it has one serious purpose, one aim, one speciality, and it is constant to it – the deriding of shams, the exposure of pretentious falsities, the laughing of stupid superstitions out of existence; and that whoso is by instinct engaged in this sort of warfare is the natural enemy of royalties, nobilities, privileges and all kindred swindles, and the natural friend of human rights and human liberties.

An especially cogent thought, given the sham, pretentious, false swindler currently living at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.